The journey from Edinburgh back down the road to Llanelli is a long one, but I can’t remember another time when I’ve left a Scotland camp feeling so good about things.
I’m a cautious person, not given to grand notions. I’ve seen many false dawns over the years but I feel that something is happening with this Scotland team now.
I actually feel that our supporters are louder, that they’re more passionate and connected to the players on the pitch. I certainly haven’t heard the anthem boom round the stadium like it has in the last couple of weeks.
That might be all in my imagination, rose-tinted specs and all that, but somehow I think not.
The Six Nations is a different beast, of course. In eight weeks we’ll be back into it and this time points are up for grabs. I’m wary of hype and I know how difficult it is to turn autumn performances into Six Nations victories.
Nobody is kidding themselves or getting carried away. Everybody is optimistic but also fully aware of how much work needs to be done.
What’s interesting – and very encouraging – is how our depth has grown this autumn. We had a load of injuries to guys who have won a lot of caps but the players who have come in have done brilliantly – and they’re all contenders now. The boys who missed out will know that there are no guarantees of them coming back straightaway.
Gregor [Townsend] has shown that he won’t hesitate to promote players ahead of some you might have expected to be in. He is not scared to make those decisions. That keeps everybody on their toes. The way things are going, everyone is desperate to be in the next squad. There will be a lot of sleepless nights ahead of his next announcement.
‘The emotion of it was incredible’
We’ve just come through an incident-packed autumn. Three thrillers at Murrayfield – an eleven-try Test against Samoa, a near-miss against the All Blacks, a great win against the Wallabies.
There are a huge amount of moments that stand out, but if I was to pick one I’d go for the pre-match scene against New Zealand and Doddie Weir coming on to the pitch with his boys. I’ll never forget it. A moment that transcended sport.
He came in to see us after the game and he gave me the scarf he wore on the pitch I was touched by that. As a single moment it was impossible to beat. The emotion of it was incredible.
A slightly different moment that stands out for different reasons is trying to stall the referee for kick-off against Australia as Tommy Seymour had forgotten to put his match strip on. We warm up in t-shirts and then change to match shirts and cover up in tracksuits to keep warm during the anthems. Tommy sang the anthems, removed his jacket only to realise then the predicament he was in. Thankfully the referee saw the funny side.
It was hugely important that we beat Australia. We knew what it was like to follow our win against them in the summer with a really poor loss to Fiji the week after and we were determined not to go back to that. There’s no future in yo-yo performances.
We set a standard against the All Blacks and we matched it against Australia. That’s the way it’s got to be.
A red card is a curious thing in rugby. In the precise moment Australia prop Sekope Kepu was sent-off just before half-time in our game on Saturday I can’t remember thinking about my Scarlets team-mate, Steff Evans, but I’m sure he was in my head somewhere, on some kind of subconscious level.
In our Pro12 semi-final with Leinster last season, Steff was sent off at the same stage as Kepu. We had an 11-point lead at the time and, despite being down to 14 players, we hung on to win 21-10 against a terrific side that had four Lions in it and had made the semi-final of the Champions Cup.
When the Wallabies were reduced to 14, I didn’t think they were still capable of winning the game, I knew it. I knew it because I’d been part of a team that had done it before.
It’s an odd thing. You’re reduced in numbers but you still find an inner strength, a backs-to-the-wall adversity that gets you through. It doesn’t always happen, but the point is that it can – and does – happen. Conversely, it can make your own team relax too much, believing the task is almost complete.
‘Close to a perfect day’
I say this because to put more than 50 points on a team like the Wallabies is a hell of a feat, even allowing for their 14 men.
It was as close to a perfect day as I’ve had in my 10 years playing for Scotland. And I scored. I don’t get many.
I’m often asked would I rather score a try for Scotland or put in a match-saving tackle. I normally choose the latter. After reviewing footage of my celebrations I’m not sure how genuine my assertion is.
When I touched the ball down things actually went weirdly quiet. For a split-second I thought, ‘Am I screaming my head off here and this try has not been allowed?’ There must have been a big pile up in the ruck before and the boys took a while to get to me. I was on the verge of looking over my shoulder and saying to the ref, ‘I’m good, right?’
People have been saying a lot of nice things about us. Some of the boys are getting praised outside Scotland even ‘though they’ve been playing great rugby for quite a while now.
I still think we’ll be underdogs in most of our games in the Six Nations but I don’t think we’ll be written off to the same level. And I don’t think people will say that it’s a fluke if we do win games.
It annoyed me when we beat a team only for it to be regarded elsewhere as some kind of one-off. We need to keep improving all the time, but 2017 has been a lot of fun. The challenge is to make 2018 even better.
John Barclay was talking to BBC Sport Scotland’s chief sports writer Tom English